The most crucial element in any story is that the hero must care for someone. Omit this crucial element and you’ll wind up with an emotionally empty screenplay. That’s because caring for someone is the foundation for likability. When we see someone caring for others, that makes that person more likable. Imagine a story where the hero cares about no one but himself (or herself). That would create a distinctly unlikable character, which would make it hard to sympathize with that character.
There are two ways the hero of any screenplay can care for others. The most common way is for the hero to be minding his or her own business, and suddenly meet someone they need to care for. In “Leon: The Professional,” a hit man is busy living a lonely life killing others for money. One day he witnesses some men killing a family so he saves the little girl from that family. For the rest of the story, the hit man must know protect this little girl.
Think of most great movies and you’ll find that the hero eventually find someone to care for and love. In “Titanic,” Rose feels trapped until she meets Jack. From that point on, she cares for him. In “Star Wars,” Luke is bored on his uncle’s farm, but starts to care about Princess Leia when he sees her hologram. In “Harold and Maude,” Harold is drifting through life alone and lonely until he meets Maude, who he starts to care for and love.
In most stories, the hero meets someone to care for and love. In rare instances, the hero’s goal is to care for someone right from the beginning. In “Die Hard,” John McClane’s sole goal is to arrive in Los Angeles so he can get back with his wife. In “Don’t Breathe,” the hero cares for her little sister and wants to take her little sister away from their abusive mother. In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss’s goal is to protect her little sister from the Hunger Games, and she has to do this by volunteering in her little sister’s place.
Even in a survival film like “127 Hours” where the hero is trapped alone in a canyon for most of the story, the hero hallucinates about his family that shows he cares about them.
Before you start writing your screenplay, decide who your hero will care for. That person can be someone the hero cares for right from the start or someone who appears in the hero’s life later in the story. either way is fine. Just make your hero care for someone and then the audience will care about your hero and the hero’s story as well.